Virginia Legislators Move to Offense to Win Back Reproductive Rights

Virginia Legislators Move to Offense to Win Back Reproductive Rights

It’s a new year, and legislatures across the country are preparing to kick off new sessions. The years 2010, 2011 and 2012 were devastating in many states, where anti-choice majorities used pre-packaged bills provided by outside national interest groups to decimate women’s rights to legal, safe abortion.

Virginia was one of the hardest hit of the states. Between mandatory forced ultrasounds and TRAP bills meant to shut down most of the clinics in the state, the last few years have been tough on those who value women’s reproductive health access. However, this year state politicians who support women’s choice are putting out an aggressive message: We will fight to get those bad laws off the books.

Even before the start of session it became clear that reproductive health supporters were ready to take back their rights. Prior to the opening session anti-choice and pro-choice demonstrators hit the sidewalks to rally lawmakers to their sides, according to reports from

“There are forces at work across Virginia who don’t want women protected from the violence of abortion,” said one speaker at a rally organized by the Virginia Society for Human Life and The Family Foundation.  Nearby, abortion rights supporters held a counter demonstration. “For safe abortion we will fight,” they chanted, “No more back alleys in the night.”

The enthusiasm carried on into the session, where Virginia Senator Ralph Northam announced he would propose ending the mandatory forced ultrasound law passed the year before. According to the Daily Press, Northam vowed that he would end the state’s new found reputation as talk show joke fodder:

“The law was an embarrassment for the commonwealth, and we were the laughingstock of the late night comedy shows. As a physician I am guided by the Hippocratic Oath, and understand as well as anybody the sacred relationship between a patient and their doctor. The last thing we need in Richmond is legislators interfering with that sacred relationship.”

Other Democratic lawmakers announced plans to revoke the TRAP law, or reiterating that all FDA approved forms of hormonal contraception are in fact contraception and cannot be banned under any bills defining life as beginning at fertilization.

The preemptive strike is logical. Anti-choice politicians were already toying with proposals to force poor women with severely disabled fetuses to carry to term against their will by denying them coverage for an abortion, while anti-abortion political groups complain that TRAP legislation that would close clinics aren’t being implimented fast enough.

By taking an aggressive stance, pro-choice legislators can not only bring the battle onto more favorable ground, but hopefully with the support of enough constituents force their opponents into rolling back their own past restrictive laws.

“Last year we saw Virginia’s anti-choice lawmakers launch an all-out attack on reproductive health and rights,” said Tarina Keene, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia via email. “Because of their actions, thousands of Virginian women have been forced to jump through politically motivated and medically unnecessary hoops in order to access safe, legal reproductive health care.  This year, I am proud to have our pro-choice allies in the General Assembly fighting to reverse the damage and protect women’s health. If their bills pass, Virginian women will once again have access to the comprehensive health care they deserve.”

Still, pro-choice activists in Virgina are aware that whatever efforts they make, their anti-choice counterparts can always be counted on for a potential sneak attack. “I don’t think we have truly seen all possible anti-abortion legislation yet,” said Shelley Abrams, a reproductive rights advocate who runs a local clinic. “We know from history that anything can back tacked on to non-relevant legislation. So, until the session is over, I am expecting all types of horrible bills to show up.”

Abrams said that she considers the pro-choice push to roll back last year’s restrictions “brilliant.” 

I think it is important to put abortion rights on the offensive. For so long, pro-choicers have allowed the air around abortion to be negative. We have allowed abortion to be referred to as ‘Safe, but rare’ by our legislators, our President, our Secretary of State. This has created an atmosphere of shame around abortion and what legislator wants to create proactive legislation around something shameful? It can only help the movement when people who are accountable to voters are unafraid of standing up for abortion rights.

Despite her excitement and support, however, Abrams admits that she isn’t entirely sure that the anti-abortion agenda can be reversed. “As someone who runs an abortion clinic, I feel like I better gets the funds ready to make some giant and unnecessary architectural changes. If I can find them. I feel like this year, I will see friends and allies across Virginia close their doors after years of fighting.”

Even if the pro-choice bills aren’t passed, or the governor chooses to veto them, Abrams still believes that it is the actions of the politicians, not the will of the people they represent. “I feel like the tide is changing in Virginia as far as public opinion on abortion rights, but that it will unfortunately come too late to save access,” said Abrams. “I feel hopeful that people are waking up, while sad that they and their daughters will suffer the loss of actual access to abortion.”

Will a strong offence work? It certainly can’t hurt, and it’s a tactic every state should try to replicate.

They Are Coming for Your Birth Control: Cuccinelli Supports Civil Disobedience as Method of Flouting Birth Control Benefit

Note: Think that anti-choice politicians and activists aren’t trying to outlaw contraception?  Think again.  Follow along in an ongoing series that proves beyond a doubt that they really are coming for your birth control.

Dr. Martin Luther King went to jail to protest segregation. Gandhi went on hunger strikes to fight colonial rule. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli thinks going to jail to avoid offering health insurance that covers emergency contraception is just as worthwhile.

Via Politico:

You know, Abraham Lincoln has many good quotes, but one of them is ‘the best way to get rid of a bad law is to enforce it vigorously.’ And here we’re going to have an example of what tyranny means when it’s played to its logical conclusion,” Cuccinelli said. “Because forcing business owners and businesses to do this is not consistent with our history of preserving religious liberty, one of the most important protections we have in this country.”

Cuccinelli recounted an exchange with his own bishop in which he counseled the cleric to embrace civil disobedience: “My local bishop said, ‘Well, you know I told a group I’m ready to go to jail.’ And I said, ‘Bishop, don’t take this personally: You need to go to jail.’”

“What I mean by that is, people need to see it play out all the way to its logical conclusion,” Cuccinelli said.

Cuccinelli isn’t the only one advocating civil disobedience rather than allowing women access to pills that will delay ovulate and prevent an unwanted pregnancy after unprotected sex. In fact, he’s just echoing the recent claim of Father Frank Pavone that, had his own suit not succeeded, he would have been willing to endure jail time himself.

“We were prepared to violate the mandate on Jan. 1, at great expense to our organization,” Pavone wrote on his website. “We are very grateful to the court that we did not have to take that step, and we remain confident that this unjust mandate will be entirely and permanently struck down.”

Pavone was willing to pay costly fines, much like craft store chain Hobby Lobby said it would be. Now, however, Hobby Lobby says it will delay the start date of its insurance coverage to avoid penalties (a decision that has changed now that they already reaped the benefits from a “support Hobby Lobby” buying spree).

Cuccinelli’s “go to jail” comments are just the latest in public statements created to  incite the religious right, and it’s not going unnoticed. However, it’s former Congressman Joe Walsh who is taking that challenge and fanning the flames even harder. Newsmax writes, “The Republican firebrand said conservatives may have to ‘defy and or break the law and engage in civil disobedience’ to make a point. But he also paraphrased Thomas Jefferson, saying: ‘We may have to shed blood every couple hundred years to preserve our freedoms.'”

Are Cuccinelli and Walsh ratcheting up the rhetoric in an already heated battle? Maybe. Or maybe they are just showing the mainstream media what they are already saying in private in their own outlets, such as when legal analyst Ken Kuklowski wrote:

This is civil disobedience, consistent with America’s highest traditions when moral issues are at stake. The Greens are a law-abiding family. They have no desire to defy their own government. But as the Founders launched the American Revolution because they believed the British government was violating their rights, the Greens believe that President Barack Obama and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are commanding the Greens to sin against God, and that no government has the lawful authority to do so.

The Christian tradition of defying government commands to do something wrong goes back to the very birth of Christianity. When the apostles were ordered not to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with anyone, the Book of Acts records: “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.’”

Eleven of the twelve apostles—including Peter—would lose their lives for the sake of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ; only the apostle John died of old age. They were determined to obey God’s will at all costs.

Millions of Christians across the country feel exactly the same way as the Greens. The Obama administration has issued a statist command that is a declaration of war on people of faith who object to abortion, and civil disobedience could break out all over the country unless the courts set this matter right—and quickly.

Are we really going to “shed blood” to stop access to no co-pay emergency contraception? I guess it’s give me liberty or give me ella, because they are obviously coming for your birth control.

First Circuit Again Upholds Massachusetts’ Clinic Buffer Zone Law

On Wednesday a federal appeals court upheld the buffer zone law for Massachusetts abortion clinics, holding that the regulations strike the appropriate constitutional balance between protecting the rights of patients and the speech rights of clinic protestors.

The law creates a 35-foot fixed buffer zone around the driveways and entrances of clinics. Anti-choice activists challenged the law, arguing the buffer zone unconstitutionally infringes on the speech rights of those who want to engage in “anti-abortion counseling” outside clinics.

The court has twice upheld an earlier version of the law in 2001 and again in 2004. The law was revised in 2007 which sparked a host of new legal challenges.

In its opinion the First Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that while abortion may remain a divisive issue for some, ultimately it is a legal medical procedure and those in need are entitled to safe passage to and from clinics. “Few subjects have proven more controversial in modern times than the issue of abortion,” the court held. “The nation is sharply divided about the morality of the practice and its place in a caring society. But the right of the state to take reasonable steps to ensure the safe passage of persons wishing to enter health care facilities cannot seriously be questioned.”

Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office defended the law, praised the decision in a statement.

“We are pleased that the court has once again upheld the Commonwealth’s buffer zone law which provides safe access to reproductive health care facilities while preserving freedom of expression,” Coakley, said in a statement. “We have always believed, and the court agreed, that the buffer zone leaves open the opportunity for civil engagement on public areas around these facilities while ensuring that patients and health care providers can safely access these facilities.”

The First Circuit decision will likely be appealed.

The legal battle over buffer zones demonstrates the continuing effectiveness, indeed the necessity of the FACE Act. As anti-choice activists push for the re-criminalization of abortion and as more and more clinics close due to TRAP regulations and the push by Catholic organizations to merge with as many health care providers as possible, the number of actual clinics providing abortion care has dwindled to alarming scarcity in many places. Protecting the rights and health of women and clinic workers becomes an even greater priority in such a climate, and this reality at the heart of the First Circuit’s opinion.

Indiana Accuses Planned Parenthood of Performing Illegal Second Trimester Abortion — During the First Trimester

State Senator Mike Delph believes that an Indiana Planned Parenthood clinic has some explaining to do, and is pressuring the county prosecutor to open an investigation.

Via The IndyStar:

A 911 call on Nov. 2 from a Planned Parenthood clinic in Indianapolis has raised the concern of Indiana State Sen. Mike Delph, prompting him in a letter to ask Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry to investigate.

In the 911 call, a staff member at the Westside clinic is heard seeking an ambulance for a woman who developed complications during an abortion procedure. The anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue posted audio from the call at its web site. In the call, a Planned Parenthood staff member describes the patient as being 13 weeks, two days along in her pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood clinics are not authorized under state law to perform second-trimester abortions, said Delph, which the Carmel Republican believes is indicated to be happening in the 911 tape.

“The Planned Parenthood facility. . . is not licensed as a hospital or ambulatory outpatient surgical center,” Delph writes in his Dec. 14 letter. “Because this … act occurred in my district, I have a compelling interest in requesting a full investigation.”

The problem with Delph’s accusation? A 13 week 2 day termination is actually a first trimester abortion, not as second trimester one. The second trimester doesn’t begin until 14 weeks gestation.

It could be an honest mistake. After all there is a lot of confusion in general over when the first trimester ends, sometimes even from pregnant women, themselves. But it’s also clear that Delph is only echoing exactly what the Operation Rescue team have publicly stated in their own calls to have the clinic investigated. According to their own website about the event:

“The record shows that a Planned Parenthood patient was in active labor and in the middle of a risky second trimester abortion when the abortionist stopped the procedure and called for emergency transport. Because of the evasiveness of the caller, almost anything could have happened to that woman, but one thing is obvious; her life was in danger,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue and Pro-Life Nation. “This certainly warrants further investigation by the appropriate authorities.”

Watching the video and reading the transcript sheds doubt on Newman’s claims. The clinic notes that the patient is not bleeding, is conscious, and has just begun to experience some cramping. That’s a far cry from “active labor” or her life being “in danger.”

Still, Delph appears more than happy to carry water for Operation Rescue, as well as Indiana Right to Life, which is campaigning to demand an investigation into Planned Parenthood over the incident. Delph is an excellent candidate to press their agenda: he’s been endorsed by Indiana Right to Life and American Family Association Indiana and has voted for every restriction to reproductive health proposed in the legislature. He even likes to opine on his website about what it would be like if Steve Jobs had been aborted.

One thing Delph is lacking? A medical degree.

Curry has yet to respond about actually beginning an investigation, although his multi-year pursuit of prosecuting Bei Bei Shuai doesn’t bode well in regards to his advocacy for women. Regardless of whether Curry opens an investigation or not, the incident makes it clear that the rabidly anti-choice legislature is ready to come after clinics and providers any way they can.

Even if it means making charges up.

Kansas Law Banning Private Insurance Coverage for Abortion Headed to Trial

The issue of whether or not a Kansas law restricting private health insurance from covering abortion violates the guarantees of Roe v. Wade is headed to trial.

U. S. District Judge Julie Robinson denied the request of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri to block the 2011 law because, ACLU argues, the primary purpose of the law was to construct barriers to safe, legal abortion care. The law prohibits private insurance companies from offering coverage for abortions in their general plans, except in cases when a woman’s life is in danger. Any Kansan who wants coverage for abortion care must instead obtain a rider on their insurance policy. According to reporting by the Associated Press, prior to the law’s passage approximately 70 percent of the insurance market share in Kansas included abortion coverage in comprehensive coverage.

Because abortion coverage was relatively routine prior to the enacting the law, Judge Robinson said a trial was necessary to answer this larger, looming question of whether the significant costs that women must now bear on their own to obtain an abortion create a substantial burden on their federal right to an abortion. “This increased cost to women seeking an abortion… creates a genuine issue of material fact concerning the existence of an impact on women seeking an abortion in Kansas,” Judge Robinson wrote.

A two-day trial is scheduled for March 18th in Topeka.

Planned Parenthood Gives Up the “Pro-Choice” Label: What Does It Mean for the Movement?

This week, Planned Parenthood announced it will let go of the “pro-choice” label, concerned that the pro-life/pro-choice framework for abortion doesn’t resonate with the general public that holds many more conflicting positions on abortion. They instead would like to focus on the real life circumstances of women and the idea that none of us can walk in any woman’s shoes. This decision led to a huge sigh of relief among advocates for reproductive health, rights, and justice across the U.S. While the media and many of the larger more established movement organizations had held onto “pro-choice”, critics of the framework had existed for years and included activists, advocates, and scholars. Lest we forget our history and think the rejection of “Pro-Choice” is a radical departure, I want to acknowledge just a few of those past critiques:

  1. Pro-choice is an economic term. It suggests that what a woman does about a pregnancy is simply another choice like picking a red or blue car, thereby trivializing the abortion decision. It turns parenting into a decision based on economic rationale and consequently into an economic privilege. Here I think about the work of historian Rickie Solinger.
  2. Women don’t always have a true “choice.” Choice is only possible when women have the resources to select either option. When there is no funding for abortion or no clinic to go to, women don’t really have a “choice.” The opposite is also true. Women who have abortions often say they feel like they have “no choice.” They don’t mean they were coerced; the abortions are their decisions. They mean that they do not have the economic resources, social support, or capacity to care for a child. Here I think about the work of political scientist Rosaline Petchesky.
  3. Pro-choice is a singular binary tem that recommends a preferred outcome for a pregnancy. It suggests that as a movement we affirm the right to abortion and do not value the other decisions a woman might make. Here I think about the work of English professor Jeannie Ludlow who always demanded we call it “pro-choices” rather than “pro-choice.”
  4. Pro-choice is a label that connects most directly to the situation of middle and upper class women. Childbearing is an obligation for white women, thus abortion is the alternative choice. However, for women of color, whose reproduction has been controlled across time, abortion is not the only right for which women need to fight. Rather women need to be able to have a child, not have a child, and parent the children they have. Here I think of the work of the philosopher and activist Marlene Gerber Fried and advocates like Loretta Ross and Akiba Solomon who advocated for a focus on reproductive justice as the broader lens for our movement.
  5. Pro-choice is a political label and has nothing to do with the real stories and lives of women who have abortions. Here I think of the work of advocate Aspen Baker who pioneered of a third way, called “Pro-Voice” to replace prolife/prochoice.

As organizations like Planned Parenthood back away from the “pro-choice” label, what is next? It isn’t enough to adopt what Planned Parenthood offers, to simply focus on the idea that abortion is a personal decision and that “we can’t know a woman’s circumstances.” The “privacy” or “personal” frames for abortion are just as problematic. To say abortion is an individual woman’s business absolves us of our obligation to create a more just world. A focus on privacy cannot address the stigma of abortion. It cannot reshape our economic policies so that all people can parent with dignity. It cannot get us what we want. The future demands that we do more than simply shift away from polarizing language and instead begin to transform our culture, institutions, and policies so that all people can make the sexual and reproductive decisions they want to achieve the lives they deserve.

Mississipi to Bring Back “Heartbeat Ban” this Legislative Session and Personhood in 2014

Recently, I wondered what sort of extreme bill we might see in some of the most rabidly anti-choice states in the country this legislative session. Now, Mississippi has answered. They are planning to ban all abortions as early as 28 days post-conception, in some cases before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.

Yes, the governor is discussing a heartbeat ban.

Via the Commercial Appeal:

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant told several dozen pastors and other abortion opponents Thursday that he supports a bill that would ban the procedure once a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

It’s similar to a bill that was filed and killed by a Senate chairman last year.”It would tell that mother, ‘Your child has a heartbeat,”‘ Republican Bryant said at a Pro-Life Mississippi luncheon at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson.

Many in the audience nodded and some quietly said, “Praise Jesus,” as Bryant recalled how he and his wife, Deborah, were married seven years before they conceived their first child, a daughter who’s now grown and married. He said they prayed to become parents.

“You can hear that heartbeat at five or six weeks now,” Bryant said. “Your child has such a dramatic opportunity to live, with a heartbeat.”

Last year legislation was proposed to do a heartbeat ban, but never made it to the full senate for a vote. Democrat Hob Bryan, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, refused to let the bill out for a vote saying he didn’t want to waste anyone’s time on something so blatantly unconstitutional. Even the GOP’s attempts to piggy back the measure onto other bills to get it out for a full vote were continuously blocked, and eventually the proposal died.

Will 2013 be a different story? With legislators itching to finally shut down Jackson Women’s Health Organization, passing bills that actually ban abortion seems somewhat redundant, but may speak to a lack of confidence that their TRAP bill will ever actually be enforced.

Bryant himself remains eager to see the clinic shuttered. According to Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s Jeffery Hess, Bryant told the anti-choice religious leaders that, “My goal of course is to shut it down. Now, we will follow the laws. The bill is in the courts now related to the physicians and their association with the hospitals. But certainly if I had the power to do so legally, I would do so tomorrow.”

As if Bryant and his fellow anti-choice state politicians aren’t being obvious enough that they are enacting their own agenda rather than that of the voters they represent, a “personhood” amendment may soon be heading back to the Mississippi residents again. Despite the amendment failing to pass in 2011, a concurrent resolution proposed by State Representative Andy Gipson hopes to revive the mission to grant legal rights to fertilized eggs with another go at a constitutional amendment.

This time, in order to try to woo more people into voting yes, the amendment will not apply to IVF treatments, treating ectopic pregnancies (at least, not once they are “life-threatening”) or to “contraception or birth control not killing a person.” The bill does not state whether or not they consider hormonal contraception, IUD, or emergency contraception to be a “killing a person” form of birth control or not. If passed, the amendment would be up for a vote in 2014.

Gipson proposed the same resolution in 2012.

With the clinic in limbo, Bryant and his supporters are gearing up to put into place a back up plan to end legal, safe abortion in the state. In that case, these may be just the first of many attacks on reproductive health that will be supported by a governor who told religious leaders that he would not be a “moderate” on abortion.